Hung Huang: Chinese Women Should Develop Feminist Consciousness

March 20, 2014
By Hung HuangEditor: Amanda Wu
Hung Huang: Chinese Women Should Develop Feminist Consciousness

Hung Huang works as the CEO of China Interactive Media Group, a publishing company which prints fashion magazines like i-Look, Time Out and Seventeen. [Qianjiang Evening News]

China has realized gender equality before the law, but Chinese women haven't built their feminist consciousness and instead still shape their images in accordance with men's aesthetic standards.

Besides well-known sociologist and sexologist Li Yinhe, open talk of feminism in China is uncommon. Some women are quite strong and even superior to men at work, but the standard is still to act cute and helpless, and dependent on men.

Chinese women and men are legally equal, but in reality patriarchy exists in society and culture. According to a survey on urban Chinese people's views on love and marriage released by the China Association of Marriage and Family Studies in late 2011, 70 percent of respondents polled thought that it's better for a woman to find a good husband than to find a good job.

The survey may be the best proof that Chinese women feel powerless in many aspects and thus finding a good husband becomes the best way out for them.

Good looks are among the most important assets for finding a good husband. The annual Paris Fashion Week has almost become an exhibition for Chinese women's good looks. Apart from leading actresses, some Chinese fashion media outlets also invite other female celebrities to attend the event. It seems the Chinese media doesn't go to report the event but create to their own news.

Fashion is not only an art, but a science as well. Since the early 20th century, the history of Western clothing has mirrored feminist culture.

The first-wave of feminism, which began in the Western world in the late 19th century, gained women the rights to vote and work; meanwhile, bustles went out of fashion and women's clothes became simple and neat.

Second-wave feminism of the 1960s, '70s and '80s attached importance to women's self-consciousness, including sexual consciousness. With the emancipation of sexuality, women began to wear miniskirts.

The third-wave of feminism, which began in the early 1990s and is still ongoing, has addressed feminist history and theories and increased feminist influence in society to the point of getting feminism to enter the mainstream.

As such, a group of female designers, including Mario Prada, Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo, have taken the lead in fashion design. Meanwhile, female prime ministers have started to wear Armani's female power suits.

China's fashion media and the female stars that follow them to Paris Fashion Week don't learn fashion history but instead mechanically memorize fashion designers, styles and prices.

Accordingly, those female stars have made stupid mistakes: a low-cut dress was so revealing that underwear was tucked inside it, regardless of the glaring color contrast; a '50s French new wave outfit was paired with a hat that British aristocrats wore to watch horse races during the 19th century.

Such mistakes are minor matters. What's worse, the wrongs committed by tyrant emperors of Chinese dynasties were also ascribed to women in their lives. For example, the sins of Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) were attributed to Yang Yuhuan (719-756), the beloved consort of the emperor during his later years.

Traditionally speaking, Chinese culture has opposed women's participation in politics, mistaking it as the roots of troubles causing the downfall of cities and states. Consequently, Chinese women are required to be good wives and loving mothers at home and keep a low profile in politics, thus meaning no 'first ladies' to speak of and leaving women a faint voice in China's leadership.

While China's fashion media take female celebrities to Paris Fashion Week, domestic media also pay attention to the clothes worn by female deputies of the National People's Congress (NPC) and female members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) that are held in March annually.

Similarly, although both the heroine, played by actress Tan Wei, and the hero, by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, are naked in Taiwanese director Ang Lee's 2007 movie 'Lust, Caution,' only Tang was faulted, while nothing was said of Leung.

Chinese women should feel happy, for they have gained various equal rights and interests that foreign women struggled more than 100 years for. But that hasn't solved everything.

Women account for 45 percent of China's working population. China's policy of gender equality has liberated women's productivity, but it hasn't changed the traditional Chinese idea that males are better than females.

Women and men are indeed equal in many aspects. Women have the right to do anything men can do. However, it's a shame that Chinese women haven't built their feminist self-consciousness. They still develop their images in accordance with men's aesthetic standards to be good wives and loving mothers and act cute and helpless.

The author is the CEO of China Interactive Media Group, a publishing company which prints fashion magazines like i-Look, Time Out and Seventeen.

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